PARENTS, teachers and academics yesterday launched a campaign calling for Scottish children to begin formal education at age seven.

Upstart Scotland is urging the Government to create play-based kindergartens for all three to seven-year-olds on the grounds that it would help close both the attainment gap and the gender gap.

The campaign was launched across Scotland yesterday with a group in Edinburgh demonstrating at the Scottish Parliament.

Events were also held in Fife, Glasgow and Lanarkshire with campaigners claiming that a later start to formal education would improve the mental and physical health of children as well as their resilience, creativity, self regulation and problem solving skills.

As reported in Saturday’s National, they point to the most recent international review by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which ranked Finland, Switzerland and Estonia as the top performing western countries for education. All three have a play-based kindergarten stage for three to seven-year-olds.

“Research tells us that the most appropriate way for young children to learn is through play,” said Glasgow joint co-ordinator Hilary Long. “Children should not be held back if they show an interest in reading and maths – they can be supported by the staff to do that but a lot of children are really not ready for that approach to learning.

“We think a later start to formal education will help to close the attainment gap which is one of the aims of the Scottish Government as children from less advantaged homes are less well prepared to start learning at an early age. It would also help close the gender gap as boys are particularly disadvantaged by sitting for lengthy periods for learning.

“We are very concerned that children are getting labelled with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) just from the fact that they are not developmentally ready to sit down for long periods and learn.

“A lot of research links a very early start in formal education to social, emotional and mental health problems in later life so our campaign has a very strong health message as well as a strong educational message.”

The most recent overall summary of educational achievement by Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) was issued in 2013.

Scotland is included with the UK, which failed to reach the top 20 in any subject. All the countries that outperformed the UK have a later starting age, including five (Liechtenstein, Estonia, Poland, Switzerland and Finland) which start at seven.

The Scottish Government says there are “no plans” to change the school starting age.

A spokesman said: “The Curriculum for Excellence is in place to provide a better and more flexible curriculum for pupils between the ages of three to 18 and it is important they are given every opportunity to flourish within that.

“Scottish ministers are confident that the legislation setting out the school starting age... is appropriate and there are no plans to change it.”

Long said Upstart Scotland did not disagree with the principles of CforE but said it was not being implemented properly.